How Much Competition Can The Market Bear?

Netscape vs Mozilla vs Firefox vs Opera vs Internet Explorer

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 by Zoomba | Discussion: Industry

Later this month, Netscape (AOL) will be releasing a beta version of their latest browser version… Netscape 8. This time though the browser has a rather odd parentage. Let’s look at the overall progression of the Netscape browser line. Each item is based on the item before it.

NCSA Mosaic -> Netscape 1-7 -> Mozilla -> Firefox -> Netscape 8

So now, by that train of logic, Netscape is loosely based on itself rather than being a direct evolution from previous versions.

Netscape, Mozilla and Firefox are all competing against Microsoft for market share in the web browser arena. IE rules supreme here through a combination of shady business moves by MS, and sheer incompetence by Netscape. The browser wars were declared over and dead years ago, no one can really argue who won. However, now we have a revival of that old competition, though it’s not quite as close as it used to be. Firefox right now represents the best threat to IE, taking up roughly 20% of the pie (MS still holds about 70%, and various versions of Netscape, Mozilla and Opera make up the remaining 10ish%). So you’d think Microsoft might be feeling a bit uncomfortable, that maybe they’d be rethinking their IE strategy, right? Well, probably not.

Most computer users don’t really care what the name of the program is that lets them check CNN.Com, or access their bank information online. To many, the web browser is just another feature of the Operating System itself, not a separate application that they could find a replacement for (issues of IE being built into Windows notwithstanding). To the average user, a computer is a black box that just has to work and they’ll take whatever is thrown at them by default.

Let’s say that the above population is steady at about 60% of all computer users (it’s likely higher, but we’ll go with that number). So that’s over half of all surfers who will always use Internet Explorer. That leaves 40% to be given to a competitor. Now, even 40%, while not quite half, is a respectable chunk and can provide some real power to whoever makes the browser that sucks up that share. Even at 40%, a competitor could give Microsoft a bit to worry about and would likely spur them on to better their own product. Even though the tables are slanted, you still have the recipe for good, healthy competition.

As things are going though, even if IE drops to 60%, or hell even 50%, we’ll never see any real competition. The reason is the other side of the line is too busy trying to edge out each other. Netscape is going after the AOL crowd… Mozilla is trying to act as a technology platform, and Firefox is just doing its own thing and is somehow gathering popularity. They’re taking the market and fragmenting it severely. Netscape has the brand recognition that the other two could only dream of, yet it’s the browser whose horrible design decisions were what finally tipped the scale towards Microsoft. Mozilla is trying to be the end-all-be-all tool and tech platform… it’s a beast of a browser. Firefox is just trying to take what Mozilla is doing, strip out all the crap, and build something that just flat-out works without being bogged down by bloat. Problem is that while they all technically work together, they’re trying to undermine and outdo one another.

There’s a lot to say for limited product choice in some cases. Yes, greater choice in a lot of cases means greater competition. In computing though that doesn’t hold true, because the consumer doesn’t know enough to be able to pick the “better” product. Mac OSX is a better product in terms of technology, security, ease of use and all that. For the average user, it even has all the software you need. But it’s not even making a dent in the market share of Windows. Certain distros of Linux are making huge strides in terms of usability, but aside from in the tech geek arena (where quality does matter), it’s not really touching Windows on the desktop. The better product doesn’t always win in this arena. You win through being quickly recognizable. You achieve that by being one of the two or three dominant providers in a given area.

With such an entrenched user base for IE, having four or five competitors isn’t going to do much to dislodge MS’s stranglehold on the market. The Mozilla camp (since they’re all the same core technology) needs to realize that there is a lot more to gain by banding together under one browser and using their resources to push that, instead of putting out a whole bunch of different products that are only incrementally different and ultimately lose out to MS just because they have the single largest chunk and no one else can come close.

Sadly, until the tech community as a whole realizes that it’s not us geeks who choose the successful technologies but Mom and Pop Smith who can’t even program their VCRs, we won’t see anyone come close to challenging Microsoft in any market.
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Reply #21 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 11:55 AM

You make a few bad assumptions in your posts...

1. Firefox is gaining 1-2% monthly and will therefore eventually overtake IE
Sorry, that's just wrong. There is a limited portion of people who use the web who are concerned/knowledgeable enough to switch. These people are the vast majority still and are only slowly going away. It will be another generation before you see the majority of computer users being saavy enough to switch browsers etc...

Also, you're assuming growth will remain steady until eventually it hits 100%. I guess you never took any basic economics course, otherwise you'd know that little graph that maps out the disemination (sp?) of a new technology or tech product. Slow at first (pre 1.0), then near exponential growth as all those who are likely to switch jump on board fairly quickly (1.0 release) and then a leveling out as the potential market is saturated/achieves stability. Firefox will expand in share until it hits the upper limit of the number of people who care/know enough to switch. That's a smaller number than most would like to admit. I'd be surprised if Firefox ever breaches 30% of the market. I think where it's at right now (20%) is going to be the max for it.

2. Firefox is inherently more secure than IE
We don't know that yet. This is an argument that Mac users use a hell of a lot when attacking Windows. The fact is, IE is the biggest target, therefore it's what hackers go after. If Firefox or Mac got a significant market share, you'd see a shift by hackers and malware companies to attack those platforms too. As it stands, the population that uses alternative browsers and platforms are not large enough to justify the investment of time or money by these people. The market leader in IT almost always tends to be portrayed as the most vulnerable, if only because there are more people trying to take it down.

Firefox right now enjoys better security because it blocks the known attacks. IE even does that now with the new patches. It will only remain so secure until someone develops a new attack. Visibility and popularity will eventually make Firefox a target just like IE.

Your biggest mistake is to be so dismissive of anyone using IE as a n00b, as ignorant etc. I use Firefox at home 100% of the time, at work I'm forced to use IE. I spread Firefox wherever I can because I like the software more. However, I'm not so stupid as to assume that anyone who is not yet using it is some filthy, unwashed moron who willingly walks head-first into assured disaster. There are many factors that contribute to why someone uses the software they use. The biggest factor is "Does it do what I need it to do?" And you have to be honest here, IE does EXACTLY what people need it to do. Sure, it does extra stuff, but they don't know about any of that, nor do they honestly care all that much.

If it works, why switch? And if someone is thinking about switching, how do you think they'd react to someone like you ranting and raving against the evils of IE?

*I'm a Firefox fan, I have a system running OSX, I'm generally anti-Microsoft where it is possible and makes sense. However I also recognize that there are practical considerations when dealing with what software a person chooses. Comfort and familiarity with an interface, a brand name, or a technique almost always trumps the technical features. It's this reason that Linux is not winning on the desktop. It's a superior OS in all the nuts and bolts, but to be honest in terms of what users do, it sucks horribly. Driver support is bad, software installation is hit-or-miss, documentation is written for PhDs, there are multiple "standard" desktop environments, no real equivalents for major software packages people use on a daily basis (I'm sorry, OpenOffice doesn't quite measure up just yet). It's more secure, it's more stable... doesn't make it better though
Reply #22 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 1:33 PM
So go ahead, bury your head in the sand, and keep using IE, keep buying those antispyware licenses to try and protect yourself.. Keep running Adaware 12 times a week. I mean, without noObs, who'd these spyware people have to infect?

I only use my adaware once every month a a half and it rarely comes up with anything. What part of "I'm careful" on the net do you not understand? What part of Firefox is too slow do you not grasp?
Reply #23 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 1:51 PM
Go test both IE and /firefox on your machine using this link...

Firefox: Throughput = 53976 bytes per second/432 kilobits per second
IE: Throughput = 41429 bytes per second/331 kilobits per second
I also tried the stopwatch using ESPN's website as a benchmark since it tends to take a while to load. Firefox took 7.8 seconds, IE took 16.5 seconds. For WinCustomize's home page, Firefox took 5.5 seconds, IE took 9.2 seconds.

Those are pretty significant gaps.
Reply #24 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 4:23 PM
To respond strictly to the original post, I think it doesn't matter that the "other" browsers "compete" against each other. What matters is that together they are slowly building a user base large enough to force web designers to be a bit more concerned about cross-browser compatibility. While one could get away with making sure a web site works well only with IE until now, this is no longer the case, or won't be the case very soon. If 20% of the users on the Internet can't see your corporate web site, you have a big problem. If that number eventually translates in sales, your problem start to be critical.
As it is, less and less web sites will not work in other browsers. Actually, there are probably dozens - if not hundreds - of clients calling their web design supplier this very minute asking them why their site doesn't work with Firefox or Safari, ask asking them to correct the problem immediatly. As time go by and as more people start trying different browsers, the issue that sites work only with IE will go away. Even sites that use ActiveX will slowly start thinking of using alternatives. And eventually, the user base will get even bigger because all sites will work with the other browsers.

But the game isn't over then either. Like somebody else mentionned in another thread, when Longhorn will be released, IE will be even more tied to the system and web sites will be able to be opened like a software. Now there are two things that can happen here. Either such a feature in Longhorn will be the death of all the othe browsers, or the user base of the other browsers will be large enough by then that very few companies will want to invest the energy and the money to make their website use such a technology that a chunk enough of the population will not use. If the latter holds true, then it will be a huge lost for Microsoft. I'm pretty sure Microsoft execs are quite nervous right now seeing just 10% of the market slip though their hands.
Time will tell us how the near future will be in the browser market.
Reply #25 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 4:47 PM
Cakeypower, I downloaded it off their own website. I guess you better discuss what you said with Adaware, Spybot and Pest Patrol. They found 7 or 8 suspicious files when scanned.
Reply #26 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 4:52 PM
I have not read eveyone of the comments so this may be a repeat. Did any of you Firefox users consider that since Forefox is new, there has'nt been enough time to find all the holes. Just give it time. People will find a way around it just as they have IE.
Reply #27 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 5:17 PM

I'm still in awe that anyone surfs the web without protection no matter what browser they use.
Reply #28 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 5:24 PM
Using IE is just dumb. The other night I accidentally loaded IE, and within an hour had 4 pieces of spyware on my machine.

Only a noobie would surf the net without protection, regardless of what browser you use.
Reply #29 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 6:59 PM
Tha whole monopoly tings was a farce as far as Im concerned. Im not defending the business practices of MS, but if they had competition to file suite against them.. then they werent a monopoly. If IE seems to be less secure the Firefox, then Id suggest perhaps its because there are more IE users, which means there are more people trying to FIND holes in IE because after all, whats the point in spending your time trying to find ways to get information out of 20 percent of the users, when you could spend the same amount of time and effort to get 80 percent?
Reply #30 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 7:14 PM
I think in the end, it really wont be the average consumer (I mean those of us sitting at home browsing, or chosing the browser for our companies) choice that makes a difference. If you have to have IE for updates, if the pages you need to use wont work with firefox, then your choice is going to be to have TWO browsers, or to have the one that works. There are alot of people that can make another browser work for them, but there is a HUGE chunk of the browser users out there that cannot. Unless a browser will do EVERYTHING they need it to, there wont be any reason to have another. So unless the competition catches fire with developers (and Im not saying it isnt popular, just not to the extent IE is) then the user base wont ever come close to IE.
ON a side note.. just what makes a 'noob' (how I hate the term) a 'noob'. Its a slang shortnening of Newbie. (For those of you throwing the word around with no idea of what you're saying) Has been around since before alot of you were online Im sure. Id be willing to wager that 80 percent of the people on here know alot more about computer systems, software, ect than I do.. but Ive been online since I was 8.. with a 300 baud modem (its true.. those werent just some horror story used to scare little internet surfers) I use IE because Ive used ALOT of other browsers, and IE has conistantly provided what I need. I dont think Firefox is any more secure because its a better coded piece of software.. its more secure because trhere arent as many people TRYING to wiggle in to it. My house has never been robbed.... is it more secure than the bank that got robbed down the street 2 years ago? Hardly. Regardless of what browser I use, Im going to run anti adware/spyware/vurus anyway..
Reply #31 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 7:24 PM
I agree with the statement that Firefox is perceived as being more secure partly because it is more obscure, and it is not under the same scrutiny as IE is. I might mention though that the Mozilla Foundation does offer a bounty of $500 for each legitimate bug found, so there is incentive for people to find problems with it. In addition, it has a fairly large (and growing) community testing and bug hunting for it due to its open source nature, so it does have more people looking for holes than most people would give it credit for. The community is also probably larger than Microsoft's paid staff, so when highly critical security flaws do get exposed, there are probably more people are working on the Firefox security holes than IE security holes.

I will restate one thing though: the biggest security problem with IE is ActiveX, a technology that Netscape, Firefox, and Opera intentionally do not support. By that measure alone, the non-IE browsers are undeniably more secure.
Reply #32 Wednesday, February 2, 2005 11:14 PM
I don't agree with the statement that there are less security holes because the user base doesn't warrant the effort to find them. There are companies, organisations, that do just that: look for holes or potential threats. These people are not hackers trying to break in, there are quite the opposite, organisations trying to stop people from breaking in other people's computers. When they find something, they post the alert in order to let the developpers of the software in question fix it. There has been holes found in IE, in ICQ, in Yahoo messenger, in AIM, and in Firefox too. These organisations spend as much time as needed to find these holes. They don't spend more time on IE because IE has more users. But the fact is, more holes and security threats have been found for IE than any other software, including Firefox. Just because more people put their money in a cardboard box instead of an iron safe doesn't remove the fact that an iron safe IS safer.
Reply #33 Thursday, February 3, 2005 12:41 AM
With IE my speed is: 83343 Bps - Throughput
667 kbps
With Firefox my speed is: 51626 Bps - Throughput
413 kbps

Using a Cable connection - 4mbps

And all those that cry about the holes from actice X - that was fixed by SP2.

CLEARLY Firefox is slower in speed - both in starting up and in displaying web sites.
Reply #34 Thursday, February 3, 2005 1:05 AM
And all those that cry about the holes from actice X - that was fixed by SP2. begs to differ.

A vulnerability caused due to an error in the DHTML Edit ActiveX control that has been confirmed on a fully patched system with Internet Explorer 6.0 and Microsoft Windows XP SP1/SP2:

And other problems not solved by SP2: (tested this one myself and it works)

Not all security alerts issued before SP2 came out have been checked in SP2 or offer tests to see if you're vulnerable to them.
Reply #35 Thursday, February 3, 2005 1:32 AM
CLEARLY Firefox is slower in speed - both in starting up and in displaying web sites.

One single test is not nearly enough to determine which is faster in loading pages. My test proved nothing, your test proved nothing. I have found that whenever testing one right after the other, whichever one goes first tends to win. In addition, performance also varies depending on whether the Firefox cache and IE's temporary internet files are full or empty. And when test conditions are nearly identical in back-to-back tests, the performance for both sometimes varied widely one minute to the next. My point is that to get a meaningful analysis out of a website like that, actual statistical research has to be performed, including running hundreds of tests to get a good population; identifying and assessing possible lurking variables like the cache/temp int. files, other programs running, and amount of free RAM; and caclulating expected value, variance, and standard deviation of each at the very least. I, for one just don't have the time for that.

How 'bout this. We agree Firefox is faster for me, IE is faster for you, and I stick to my original point that people should at least give some of the non-IE browsers a try. You tried something else, didn't like it, and went back. But you tried it. That's all I ask of anyone. That, and do some research on security holes if you're going to comment on them

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